This week, Warner Home Entertainment releases the 70th Anniversary Edition of Casablanca, and every aspect of its design seems carefully calculated to stave off cries of double-dipping; Warner gave the film a new 4K scan, fancy Ultimate Collector's Edition packaging, and over twelve hours of bonus materials, including the 289-minute You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story documentary.
Even by Warner's standards, this package impresses; Kenneth Brown's Blu-ray review indicates that, "the studio has gone above and beyond with an ultimate edition that makes the 2008 Ultimate Edition look inadequate." Yet even with the value-added bells and whistles, Casablanca on Blu-ray has a touch of the familiar; this great Casablanca Blu-ray is still anotherCasablanca Blu-ray.
In terms of its construction and care, the David Lean Directs Noël Coward package equals Casablanca's 70th Anniversary Edition. What gives Criterion the slight edge is the historical and aesthetic significance that accompanies the Lean features. Best known for such widescreen epics as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, the David Lean that emerges through these four pictures proves himself just as skilled in mapping the human psyche. Lean creates whole worlds from everyday fears and desires: the reflection that comes with facing one's own mortality, the everyday struggle of providing for one's family, the difficulty of letting past relationships go, and the terror that goes hand-in-hand with falling in love.
While Casablanca and David Lean Directs Noël Coward cover the week's signature vintage discs, the highlight of the contemporary releases is David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method. Audiences did not flock to the film during its brief theatrical run, and for understandable reasons - A Dangerous Method represents the culmination of Cronenberg's formalist restraint period (which began with 2002's Spider); its subject matter makes Repression the main character, and it contains none of the violent jolts that galvanized his A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.
However, A Dangerous Method is not without merit simply because it lacks graphic sex and violence. Combined with Christopher Hampton's economical script, the director's chilly precision has never been so effective, drawing out subtle, nuanced work from Michael Fassbender (Shame) and Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) as well as a strikingly feral performance from Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice). In his Blu-ray review, Martin Liebman notes that, "David Cronenberg's latest film may not look or sound like the David Cronenberg films by which most audiences will know the director, but a dialogue-heavy period film though it may be, the picture plays with a fascinating rhythm and purpose as it tears apart the human mind by way of putting it back together."
On the TV-on-Blu-ray front, Paramount offers the fifteenth season of South Park. Season Fifteen is one of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's most controversial creations, and not just because it includes the nauseatingly satirical "HumancentiPad" and "Crack Baby Athletic Association"; Parker and Stone found their already-accelerated production schedule intensified by their work on the Book of Mormon Broadway musical.
Many suspected the series would suffer as a result, but Parker and Stone proved surprisingly resilient, and their fifteenth South Park year featured a fairly routine ratio of good to bad episodes. Martin Liebman's Blu-ray review credits that consistency to South Park's longevity, that, "It's all so finely-tuned, there's so much history with which to work, the characters so well fortified in who they are that no matter who or what falls under the show's crosshairs, it just fits like a comfortable old pair of boots that slip right on no matter the place or the time. Season Fifteen, like most other seasons, might have a few shows that don't quite live up to the excellence of the rest, but this is another high-quality season that will leave fans more than satisfied."
Would be all over Casablanca if it were a standalone, cheaper package. The Target ad for this week says there is a standalone Casablanca Blu-ray coming out Tuesday, though it doesn't clarify if this is just a reissue of the older version, or the new transfer.